Sunday, October 28, 2018

Crossranting: The Vistula, but with a Floating Tank (Twilight: 2000: Later Days)

But think with a tank parked on a barge at the bow...
We're a tiger out for a swim. Four mortars down in the belly of the barge, 3 MG positions on each side with a RPG in case of heavy trouble, and the T-72 weighing down the front end. The OT-64 parked toy-like beside it. On the tug we've got another 2 heavy machineguns and 2 mediums on the deck. Finally, the AT-4 anti-tank missile launcher on the roof of the bridge.  - Captain Katriona Paterson

Every now and again you stumble across something unexpectedly interesting on the web while looking for something else entirely and recently for me this was the output of Chris Csakany on his Twilight 2000: Later Days defunct blog (July 2011- March 2013).

Although I'd previously mapped out the first stretch of the Vistula from the module on a previous blog and summarised some of the encounter types, it's been difficult to find any other reasonable material for inspiration to create more generic riverine encounter tables with.

That is until now. 

There's a stretch of 8 game posts from #038 to #45 (Nov 2011 to March 2012) written by Chris (with help from his group of players) that covers the whole trip detailed in the Pirates of the Vistula module:

Addit: there are several additional posts beginning with "New Orders" covering the second trip the lower Vistula beyond Warsaw to Torun, setting up the rail journey to the port of Bremerhaven detailed in Going Home

It's written in character and flows quite well, but there's enough material to both develop an understanding of the play of the campaign they ran (they mounted a T-72 battle tank on the bow of the tug to somewhat hilarious and certainly deadly effect) but also for me to get some more generic ideas from for my riverine encounter ideas.

I'll mine it for some more ideas over the next few weeks, but looking over the original module there's a lot of encounters and hazards that could be readily adapted for a more "generic" riverine adventure and I like the way the tables are set out in "stretches" and divided into "river" vs "Shore". I might even be able to mock up a random generator table or two...

The rest of the posts are quite interesting as well, covering the 5th Division remnant group as they work their way from the default start at Kalisz through to the T2k v1 American mainland adventures. The group even use the suggested strategy to flee immediately due south as an escape route that I mention in my T2k Campaign Start option post... 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

GURPS Riverworld - A Classic, But is it Any Good?

At last! I has it, my precious...
So I managed to track this classic down on eBay.

It's out of print, published 1990. Not even available in PDF.

Looks like it would have some interesting river adventure ideas, right?

Unfortunately not really...

See it's a *Riverworld* supplement.

Not a river (world) supplement as such.

So I'm a bit disappointed to be honest.




Yes I actually typed that.

Look it's actually really interesting and inspiring, even though I've only starting picking through selected sections of it looking for nuggets for the Indicara section of the AtG project that started all this...

That's not to say there aren't elements in this particular chapter that could be cannibalised for a generic river campaign, but I was hoping for some more procedurally generated elements for travel along the river that are related to the river itself. On reflection, there's actually not a lot of variation to the River or the actual Valley climate and geography except for near the Polar Sea and perhaps the occasional "narrows" sections. The picture low demonstrates a typical stretch of the River:

The Rivervalley (excerpt GURPS: Riverworld)

Most of the variety present along the river is actually cultural (created by the random mixture of predominant and then a secondary historical society sample), not topographical as such, and what I was really looking for was ideas for river travel eg hazards, encounters, varying conditions, unique locations etc. By it's nature, the whole river is navigable, which seems great for a riverborne campaign, but in many ways the river is quite, well... bland. There's vary little geographical variation to the cliff-flanked Valley itself and the River is broad and wide with a mostly gentle current.

The River, despite the capitalisation, doesn't really have a character of it's own.

And that's perhaps what I was looking for, hence my disappointment probably.

One of the characters in the first book, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, refers to the ability to be randomly teleported up and down the length of the River upon death as "the Suicide Express" and the train metaphor is perhaps apt - the River is indeed somewhat of a "railroad" in the way it geographically limits the riparine societies in a definitel linear fashion.

By contrast, the River Reik, from the Warhammer Fantasy setting, seems more alive with it's own character and distinct culture (including river gypsies, trade, canals and riverwardens). In the Riverworld setting however, despite the profusion of riparian societies and nations, there's really no distinct itinerant "riverborne" culture, which seems an oversight to me. 

Saving Grace?

Now Chapter 3: "Airships and Riverboats" does have a lot of great ideas and information to use for a riverine campaign or a steampunk styled campaign with airships, but many of the ideas are still locked into the "conceit" of the setting, that is by the overarching meta-plot and unique aspects of the Riverworld planet's geography.

Aspects of the canoe and riverboat descriptions are helpful, and I the airship rules are very detailed thankfully, which may be the unexpected saving grace for me given the effort I went to tracking down the print product in reasonable condition.

I admit I do love a good airship...

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Twilight: 2000 Campaign Start Options

A while back I was very interested in GDW's Twilight 2000, going to the extent of creating a handful of test characters and considering the default Polish "in media res" starter campaign. However, although it provided resources for a "sandbox" style of play, I didn't really like the introductory adventure "Escape from Kalisz" and found it very confusing to follow, so after some rereading the text I created a number of resources as Referee play aids and to get my head around things.

I quickly worked out that the Soviet forces to the northwest Kalisz-Sieradz road, together with the destroyed bridges of the Warta River, form an impassible boundary to the north forcing the players southwards – the scenario even suggests to the GM that this is pointed out to the players explicitly. So I'd actually recommend moving out of the area as quickly as possible, bypassing the whole starter adventure as much as possible...

Escape from Kalisz Starting Positions

The players are forced to flee *southwards*.

So, assuming a HumVee with a full tank of ethanol can travel 60km overland in one time period but suffers half movement in woods, there are two potential starting positions on the below detail map (on gridline equivalent to 10km) that combine significant distance with a reasonable change of concealment form pursuit:

Escape from Kalisz booklet excerpt
(in media res player starting positions)

  • 1st position, D6 is just 5km inside the northwestern edge of the woods between Kepno and Zloczew, near the point where the tree line bends sharply north (marked on the map with a blue star), about 1 period (4 hours) travel southeast of Kalisz
  • 2nd position, D3 is a potentially more concealed location (marked with a green star), deep in the woods between Ostrow and Ostrzeszow, within striking distance of the road convoys travelling along the road to and from the Soviet-occupied city of Opole.

For simplicity, the starting time is 0800 hours, 19th July 2000 and their vehicle’s fuel tanks are assumed to now be empty, their engines are set to ethanol and requiring conversion to use methanol (unless the vehicle is a multi-fuel variant).

Unless the party has thought to purchase and carry additional fuel, they must spend the next three days lying low and distilling more alcohol before moving again. Although exact locations of the Soviet forces will not be known, the fleeing US elements will be well aware that the victorious forces will begin searching for them quickly.

It is *strongly* recommended that the party possess additional fuel reserves.

*Spoilers below!*

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Life (and Death) on the River Teufel (WFRP)

River Teufel (Lower) map circa IC 2500
(excerpt from Death on the Reik)
So despite being intrigued for years based on its reputation, I've only just picked up a DriveThruRPG PDF copy of Death on the Reik (DotR), the classic second part of "The Enemy Within" WFRP 1e campaign. Hailed by many as one of the best RPG adventures for WFRP (if not of all time), it's not only a decent adventure, but also a resource for a potential riverine campaign set on and around the Empire's largest navigable river, the mighty Reik.

I'm still working my way through reading the actual main adventure, but the major appeal is the 16-page booklet "River Life of the Empire" - a resource that contains various travel guidelines and details of possible encounters and characters.

Although there's some distillation of the concepts within this slim booklet in the later WFRP editions (Chapter 2 of the Hogshead 2e corebook, "Life and Death on the Reik" and a brief few pages of the Cubicle 7 4e corebook), this really seems to be the definitive treatment of RPG river travel and a great sandbox resource.

Despite the "sandbox" elements, the majority of the gazetteer detail contained within the supplement is focussed on first the lower River Bogen to Weissbruck and then to Altdorf via the Weissbruck Canal and on to the main channel of the Reik. There are details of a minor excursion up the gorge of the River Stir and the River Narn into the Barren Hills, but otherwise the adventure sticks to the main channel.

The other main tributaries, the Talabac and the Teufel, are left undetailed - the former could easily come into play through the details in the 2e supplement Terror in Talabheim, but the southern tributary (see the inset map to the left, 5 miles per hex scale, excerpted from the main DotR map) seems somewhat neglected in the supplements to date.

Death on the Teufel?

Although I've managed to code a Google Docs Spreadsheet that generates the random encounters and first sentence of the corresponding text from the "River Life in the Empire" booklet, I think there's an opportunity to explore some implied set encounters. In particular, apart from the treacherous Reiker Marshes, there is a long stretch of river from Grünsburg to Auerswald that passes through the Reikwald Forest beneath the Hagercrybs that is far less populated than other stretches upriver and downriver. This would make the region rich in potential for adventures either on the waterway or in the forested riparian hinterland of the Reikland...

Looking at the included DotR map, there are several river "stretches" of the Teufel to be considered:

The Lower Teufel

  • The Reik to Grünsburg
    • Prieze & the Grünsburg Canal* 
  • Grünsburg
  • Grünsburg to Auerswald

*Note: although commissioned originally by Luitpold I, the father of the current Emperor, Karl Franz, the canal was only finished after his death in 2506. This stretch is not complete at the time of the original "The Enemy Within" campaign adventures (circa IC 2500, as opposed to the IC ~2520 starting date of later editions), although much of the channel accompanying the first part of the Great Northern Road has been dug and the locks partially built. 

River Teufel (Upper) map circa IC 2500
(excerpt from Death on the Reik)

The Upper Teufel

  • Auerswald
  • Beyond Auerswald
    • Auerswald to Ubersreik
    • Auerswald to Stimmigen

Note: the Cubicle 7 website teases that Ubersreik, the main setting of the first Vermintide computer game, will be detailed in the WFRP 4e Starter Kit boxed set (supposedly available October 2018).

Reikland Map by Andy Law
(Gitzman's Gallery)

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Riverine Adventures

The southern reaches of the River Stir perhaps?
"A river is a source of conflict because it will not bend its course for anyone. If the river is in your way, you cannot appeal to its mercy, its kindness, or its desires. And if you plunge yourself into it, the river does not care who you are. It will sweep you away. Or drown you. A river is actually a manifestation of the force of nature, which cannot be controlled or dominated, lacks sympathy or care, and kills those who do not respect it without guilt or shame". - the Angry DM
Sure, I've quoted this out of context (see the link for the whole article), but I think it captures some of the elements about rivers that I find intriguing as a potential adventure setting. I've liked the concept of a river-borne adventure, ever since I stumbled across the 1st edition Twilight 2000 module Pirates of the Vistula, even if river adventures are in many ways a "railroad", if not the *original* wilderness railroad analogue in the pre-industrial sense!

And maybe there's something in that, in terms of just how explicit an RPG railroad a river can be?

Overtly and *physically* a river manifests restriction of choice without needing to invoke often poorly contrived or unfair boundaries - it clearly indicates the story or the adventure is being channelled openly and honestly. And maybe that's an important distinction because it seems a lot of the negative pushback against RPG railroads is their element of subterfuge or heavy-handed way of enforcing the lack of choice and denial of player agency.

Yet a river-as-railroad does present several choices (albeit as a form of "choker", see below):

  • Move upriver or downriver, with or against the current.
  • Stay in the channel or explore one of the banks, left or right. 
  • Travel at night or day, take up a mooring.

All these are still choices and can even be the basis of a hexcrawl I suppose, but they're (mostly) binary choices and perhaps, like the implications of the famous "the jam jar experiment", less choice may be better in this age of overwhelming choice and call for sandbox style play?

So maybe "railroads" aren't all bad?
"Paths, be they roads or rails, are a form of creative restraint, too. Without barriers or limitations to focus play, a game is hardly about anything." - Will Hindmarsh
Will outlines further concepts further in this 2014 article, where he comments on "Rails through the Wilderness", "Roller-Coasters", "Rail Cars", "Railway Stations", and "Railway Networks" - distinct elements that provide a mixture of restriction and choice.

All these elements I think are well represented in arguably the most famous riverborne RPG adventure, the classic "Death on the Reik", the second part of the original WFRP The Enemy Within Campaign. The salvaged river barge is in effect the "rail car", the various towns and cities the "railway stations" and the multiple channels of the Reik form the equivalent of the "railway network".

Similarly, in Pirates of the Vistula, the river tug and the riverbank settlements provide similar elements, although the navigable network is much more limited, ultimately ending in the inevitable destination of Warsaw. In this module, the detail of the "rail car", the Wisla Krolowa, I think adds greatly to the appeal as the river tug becomes almost a valued character in itself.

The Wisla Krolowa ("Vistula Queen")
from Pirates of the Vistula
Addit: this all reminds me of an actual "railroad" adventure, the T2k "Going Home" in which the remnants of the default American unit in Europe use an old steam engine, the Korzub a.k.a. The Last Train to Clarksville, to travel to Bremerhaven. Somehow the Korzub, despite being a literal "rail car", doesn't quite capture my imagination like the riverboats, and the use of an actual railway in the post-apocalyptic context seems to break verisimilitude for me, as I'd consider that a community or an opponent blocking the tracks would be an inevitable occurrence.

But more on Will's article and the defining "rail car" concept in a later post.

As another article notes:
"... maybe the story is just worth going on the railroad for. Players may not object to railroading if the story's good enough to excuse the lack of perceived freedom, or if the ride is fun enough." 
For all this talk of railroads, a good riverine story is something I want to develop regardless.

But maybe a river isn't a railroad at all.

Maybe it's a "Choker" as Zak S. would say instead - we'll have to see about that in a later post, eh?

Collected Riverine Resources & Modules

There's likely more, which I'll add over time, and I welcome suggestions...

The following RPG products provide useful material for a river-borne campaign:
  • Death on the Reik (WFRP 1e) - still the best example in many people's opinion!
    • River Life of the Empire booklet (WFRP 1e) - the essential resource 
    • The Enemy Within: a Companion (TEWAC) has a section for DotR
    • "Chapter II: Life & Death on the Reik" (WFRP Companion 2e)
    • The Cubicle 7 version of WFRP (4e) has a revision of TEW planned
    • My "River Life Encounter Generator" (Google Docs spreadsheet)
  • River into Darkness (PFRPG) - like Apocalypse Now, but now with Pathfinder!
  • Rivers of Blood (DUNGEON #89) - Slavic riverine adventures why not?
  • Dolm River (Labyrinth Lord) - somewhat silly if truth be told but hey, it's OSR...

The following threads and articles/posts are also of interest:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Death on the Reik Riverine Encounter Generator

The One and Only, the Original...
As a precursor to working on the "Riverbank KNeE Table" for the Indicara jungle encounters I've been looking into riverine adventures and encounters in particular, so I went to one of the more famous adventures, the WFRP 1e module Death on the Reik, part of the fabled "The Enemy Within" campaign.

Note: the RPG module, *not* the Vermintide DLC!

The Cubicle 7 reprint is available in PDF from DriveThruRPG and includes OCR text thankfully, which made generating a Google Docs Spreadsheet encounter generator for the included random river encounters much easier to develop.

The generator is available via this link here or thanks to Jesse Burke, is also accessible over at Glitzmans Gallery in the "WFRP Resources" section (thanks to Jesse for his prompt posting at my suggestion - check out the amazing character sheets and the high-resolution world map).

The encounters and first paragraph descriptive text is drawn from the "River Life of the Empire" booklet included in the module - an excellent resource for any riverine based adventure or campaign. I'll definitely be returning to this slim booklet in the future, but for now, enjoy!

Design Notes

The generator was a bit fiddly to develop given the Boolean logic functions needed to account for not only Yes/No for encounters according to different frequencies depending on Day vs Night / Populated vs Remote. Also, the "centile" basis of the tables is mainly just a d20 roll expanded to 5 point intervals except for some rarer "Special" or "Hazard" encounters which required a sub-nested structure to work. The end result isn't as pretty as I'd like as I don't want to remap all the dependent cells just for cosmetic sake but it's functional and hopefully simple enough to use in play.  

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Randomised Generic KNeE Table Generator

While messing around with the analysis of the KNeE tables from the OSR style 5E Shadows of the Forgotten Kings (SotFK) as I was considering how to improve the Indicara jungle section of UK6 All that Glitters...I came to the conclusion that brilliant though the concept is, the table is difficult to fully appreciate in a static form - you really needed to see the randomly combining elements in action to truly appreciate their flexibility and how the design works in play.

But that requires a lot of dice-rolling (d8, d6, d4) and then much cross-referencing to determine all the elements (particularly if using the intercalated multiple biome tables from Under the Waterless Sea), and then you would still need to collate these into the actual encounter.

I really didn't want to waste time doing that!

So I instead wasted time creating a Google Spreadsheet (and a derived Excel for Mac version) that uses the basic INDEX, RANDBETWEEN and IF functions to generate the "simple combination" encounters comprised of the d8 Where? / d6 What? / d4 Weird? elements from a second data sheet containing the text corresponding to the various dice rolls:

Example generated KNeE table simple result (Google Docs version)
for Shadows of the Forgotten Kings (SotFK)

By going to File > Spreadsheet Settings... > Calculation and setting the spreadsheet to update "on change and every minute", the spreadsheet refreshes at a useful rate for use in game.

I then fiddled around with some more complicated IF based formulae to incorporate the special "specific" encounters eg. the "triples", "doubles", "sequentials" and "max" results so that if the randomised numbers produce one of these combinations, the appropriate text will appear below the "simple" combination, allowing the DM to reference the whole result easily:

Example generated KNeE table special result (Excel for Mac version)
for Shadows of the Forgotten Kings (SotFK)

Most of the "working out" is off to the right outside the screengrab of the calculating 1st sheet, but I've included the "dice roll" totals (all 3 dice, combinations) for further ease of use at the table as some of Zzacharov's entries base the number of creatures on such totals or further adjust the encounter if the result is "even", "odd" or ">, <, or =" to a particular dice roll total result.

Then I realised I could just paste in the relevant text from Gnomes of Levnec (GoL) and the formulae should similarly work, so I did that and encountered an error as GoL doesn't include "sequentials". A minor modification later and I had a working random KNeE table generator for that also:

Example generated KNeE table simple result (Google Docs version)
for Gnomes of Levnec (GoL)

From there it was simple enough to create a generic version (not shown) by just deleting the specific information from the Complex Data sheet, ready to replace with elements from either Under the Waterless Sea (UtWS) or KNeE tables of my own devising for the All that Glisters... Project.

Generic KNeE Table Generator Data Sheet

Exporting the spreadsheet as an Excel file allowed me to then "rapidly iterate" the results by clicking the "Calculate Now" button in the "Formulas" tab several times per minute, enabling me to check that all the "specific" encounters worked properly and get an idea what some of the "simple" combinations looked like.

Due to the permutations of the "sequentials" being significantly higher than the other "specifics" (18/192 vs 7/192), those 4 encounters come up more often than I expected, but with multiple flavours due to the interaction with the randomised simple elements.

If I could work out how to screen record and embed the video that might give you a better idea.

Overall, I think the generators should prove useful and I wonder if there are some further refinements and tweaking I could build in to incorporate other random features or automatically displaying additional modifiers based on the various dice roll totals.

Downloadable KNeE Table Game Aids & Resources 

Note: I have constructed these generators as Google Doc Spreadsheets for both GoL and SotFK (but not UTWS as it contains 3 different "biome" KNeE tables and would be a significant amount of work). However, I won't be posting them here without permission from Zzarchov as the generators contain significant amounts of actual module text (and potential spoilers!), but I'd be interested in linking them to a valid purchase of the PDF or hardcopy products somehow so they can be used.   

The live generic spreadsheet
that calculates these results was embedded below but I've now removed it as it doesn't seem to display properly - my blogging kung-fu and HTML skills aren't sufficient to streamline this to look pretty, so any suggestions welcome just leave them in the comments below, comment on Google +, or otherwise contact me at The Ranting Savant (three words as all one word, lowercase) AT the use Google server address.

The spreadsheet contains only "generic" elements in the Data sheet eg "Location 2", "Encounter 4", "Modifier 1" instead of any module text but it does display "specific" encounter placeholders eg. "Triples 2", "Doubles 5", "Sequential 3-4-5" and "Total = 18 Max/Goal", when the random numbers would produce that result. If you want to use them with specific entries then just add the text to the relevant cells in the second sheet labelled "Complex KNeE Data".

Alternatively, you can just use this link opens the file in my Google Drive for viewing - the "KNeE Encounter Result" sheet is set to refresh/randomise every minute - you don't even have to roll dice!

I can provide the downloadable Generic KNeE Table generator (Excel version) upon request.

I'll likely generate at least two KNeE tables for my rework of UK6, in which case it should be simple enough to create and link the resulting generators. In fact, I suspect the generators may help me refine and hone the tables from their original concepts and/or include "motivating verb" elements.